Birds of Pembrokeshire 1994

DONOVAN. J. and REES. G. 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire (Status and Atlas of Pembrokeshire Birds), Dyfed Wildlife Trust.

This book is the first authoritative and comprehensive guide to the birds and bird habitats of Pembrokeshire to be published for nearly 50 years.  The opening chapters set the ornithological scene in this [county in] the far south-west of Wales.  The species accounts review the older records, the numerous changes which have taken place, and the massive amount of new information gleaned by increasing numbers of enthusiasts in recent decades.  New discoveries are conitnually being made, and a better understanding of our birds achieved, as a results of these efforts.  The scene is set after a glorious century of ornithological endeavour since the first Birds of Pembrokeshire. On to the next with this book as your guide.  What new discoveries will be made, what new species will occur, what changes, both gains and losses, can only be properly measured by recourse to this new avifauna.

Whether ardent watcher, back garden enthusiast, or just someone who loves the wild places of Pembrokeshire and the birds they support, this book will be essential reading.

Jack Donovan and Graham Rees

The species accounts from this book are reproduced on this website with permission of the authors and the Wildlife Trust.

Background to the 1984-88 breeding distribution maps (adapted from Donovan & Rees, 1994)

Maps of breeding distribution were compiled as a result of the Breeding Birds Survey conducted by the Dyfed Wildlife Trust from 1984-1988. The methods used for gathering and classifying this information followed those of the British Trust for Ornithology Atlas of breeding birds of the British Isles (Sharrock, 1976).

Distribution is plotted by tetrads (2km x 2km squares). Adjustments were made in as much as the islands of Grassholm, Caldey, Skokholm and Ramsey were regarded as occupying one square each and Skomer and Middleholm were regarded as a composite tetrad. This gave a maximum of 478 tetrads. 

The original maps in the 1994 publication show:

  • Presence in the breeding season (=possible breeding): small dots
  • Probable breeding evidence: medium-sized dots
  • Confirmed breeding evidence: large-sized dots

Colours are used in the on-line version of these species breeding distribution maps:

  • Yellow = possible breeding evidence
  • Orange = probable breeding evidence
  • Red = confirmed breeding evidence

Digitisation of the 1984-88 mapped records discovered, for a few species, some small differences in the total numbers and the proportions found in tetrads. The on-line maps have amended figures for these species to take these differences into account.   

Bluethroat – 1994

Luscinia svecicaScarce visitor

The first recorded Bluethroat in Wales remained for just an hour at Skomer on 9 May 1946 (S. Marchant). Since then a total of 14 have been recorded between 1946 and 1992, four in spring, between 9 and 24 May, and ten in autumn, between 12 September and 20 October. All were at Skokholm apart from birds at Skomer, from 19 to 23 September 1988 and on 24 May 1990, and at Caldey, on 16 October 1990.

Donovan & Rees, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

More about the Bluethroat in Pembrokeshire

White-throated Robin – 1994

Irania gutturalisRobin GyddfwynVagrant

A female at Skokholm on 27-30 May 1990 (M. Betts, J.W. Donovan et al. ), a vagrant from a breeding area extending from southern Turkey to Iran and Kirgiz, was the first recorded in Wales and only the second in Britain, the first having been seen at the Calf of Man in June 1983.

Photograph of the Skokholm white-throated robin by Jack Donovan – this is a small part of the original slide.

Donovan & Rees, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

Black Redstart – 1994

Phoenicurus ochruros – TINGOCH DU – Winter visitor and passage migrant

Mathew (1894) listed several occurrences of Black Redstart and noted them annually in autumn at Tenby. Lockley et al. (1949) regarded the bird as a regular winter visitor and noted a March passage with as many as 50 at Skokholm in 1948.

A few still winter in coastal areas, such as Stackpole and the Deer Park, towns, including Haverfordwest, and industrial sites such as the Texaco oil refinery at Rhoscrowther. There is a small spring passage between 16 March and the end of May, with occasional stragglers until 29 June. Usually only one to three birds are seen at each locality, and these are predominantly coastal, including Ceibwr, Strumble Head and St Govan’s Head, and on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm.

Autumn passage, which extends from mid- October to the end of November, is very variable. In some years very few appear while in others birds are more widespread; occasionally exceptional numbers occur such as the 54 counted on the Castlemartin peninsula on 24 October 1982 (111 birds were seen in 38 localities in coastal Pembrokeshire during that month). Occasionally birds are seen in July, August and September.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

More about the Black Redstart in Pembrokeshire

Redstart – 1994

Phoenicurus phoenicurus – TINGOCH – Breeding summer visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded from December to March

1984-88
Breeding confirmed21
Breeding probable9
Breeding possible9
No of tetrads occupied39 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads8.2%

The Redstart has long been regarded as a rare and erratic breeding bird in Pembrokeshire. Mathew (1894) recorded only two nests and Lockley et al. (1949) added two more breeding occurrences. Scattered breeding pairs were documented during the 1950s at sites including Minwear and Lawrenny. However, the Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found that Redstarts bred in stone walls all around the foothills of the Preseli Mountains, with about ten pairs scattered elsewhere in the county, including some in nest boxes at the Pengelli Forest Nature Reserve. The Preseli birds are very inconspicuous until their broods are out, the population of about 100 pairs being easily overlooked. Most nest close to settlements which makes them generally inaccessible, but some, such as those at the old slate quarry buildings at Rosebush, are more easily observed.

Redstarts are fairly sparse on passage, up to four being recorded at coastal sites, including Skokholm, Skomer and Strumble Head, between 2 April and 26 May, with occasional stragglers until 24 June. However, our breeding birds are normally back on the breeding grounds during the last month or so of passage, suggesting that the coastal birds are heading elsewhere. Autumn passage extends from July to 30 October, with up to five birds at a time, and over a wider area than in spring, with exceptional larger falls occurring, such as 20 at Skokholm on 21 September 1988. Singles were at Skokholm on 2 November 1968 and 6 November 1992 and a male was seen at St Non’s on 8 November 1987.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

More about the Redstart in Pembrokeshire

Moussier’s Redstart – 1994

Vagrant

The first of this species to be recorded in Britain was a male at Dinas Head on 24 April 1988 (M. Barrett, G.J. Walker et al.). It is normally confined to north-west Africa and regarded as dispersive rather than migratory, but has wandered as far as Malta and Italy, and one was shot at Heligoland, west Germany, in 1842 (Barrett 1992).

BARRETT, M. 1992. Moussier’s Redstart new for Britain. British Birds 85: 108.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H (1994), Birds of Pembrokeshire

Whinchat – 1994

Saxicola rubetra – CREC YR EITHIN – Breeding summer visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded from December to February

1984-88
Breeding confirmed23
Breeding probable17
Breeding possible2
No of tetrads occupied42 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads8.8%

The Whinchat was regarded as a scarce summer resident by Lockley et al. (1949), and Saunders (1976) added that it was of rather patchy distribution; both indicated that breeding was confined to the north and east of the county. The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found about 50 breeding pairs (see map). Most were found in the boggy areas which encircle the Preseli Mountains but a few pairs were dotted across boggy places, extending westwards to the coast, where some were also found breeding in bracken-clad cliff-top areas including those at Cemaes Head and Treginnis.

Small numbers of Whinchats, normally no more than three at any locality, occur on the islands and coast between 13 April and mid-June, though they have been recorded from 5 April and there are three earlier records: singles at Skomer on 1 March 1946, at Newgale on 28 March 1959 and at Skomer on 28 March 1988. These coastal birds are seen at the same time as others are arriving at the local breeding grounds, so it seems likely that they ­are through migrants which breed elsewhere.

Whinchats are slightly more numerous in autumn than spring, up to six occurring at the islands and coastal areas from early July to mid-October, with stragglers until 9 November. Exceptionally there are larger falls such as 40 at Skokholm on 10 September 1968. Migrants have reached Grassholm, and have been recorded at the lantern of the Smalls lighthouse at night in August and September.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

SAUNDERS, D.R. 1976. A brief guide to the birds of Pembrokeshire. Five Arches Press.

More about the Whinchat in Pembrokeshire

Stonechat – 1994

Saxicola torquata – CLOCHDAR Y CERRIG – Breeding resident

1984-88
Breeding confirmed71
Breeding probable24
Breeding possible31
No of tetrads occupied126 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads26.4%

Mathew (1894) said “this little species is so numerous, to be seen everywhere by the roadside, perched on the furze on every common, on the coast as well as far inland, that it is likely to be considered one of our characteristic county birds”. Lockley et al. (1949) found the Stonechat to be a common resident on all furzy commons and escarpments in the county and noted that they sometimes bred on the offshore islands.

The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found that they were very local inland but were well distributed around the coast. The survey began after the population had been reduced by the cold winter of 1982, which would probably have affected the inland birds more severely than those on the coast. There is also less suitable habitat remaining in inland Pembrokeshire than there was in 1949. By the end of the survey, about 200 pairs were estimated to have bred (see map), but this level is below optimum.

Numbers have been decimated by many severe winters in the past. The winter of 1947 almost wiped them out (Lockley et al. 1949) and that of 1962/63 also left very few survivors (Donovan 1963). Numbers recover rapidly in subsequent summers largely because of high productivity, with some pairs rearing three broods in a year. A pair at Cwmbrandy, Fishguard, was suspected of rearing four broods in 1962. Breeding is still sporadic on the offshore islands of Skomer and Ramsey, with Stonechats disappearing after severe winters and recolonising again when the general population is at a high level. 

They occur on the islands, including Grassholm and the Smalls, after the breeding season, when they also become more widespread in the county generally, occupying more diverse habitat than during the summer. It is likely that some of our breeding stock moves out of the county. Apparent falls on headlands suggest that some movement takes place and one ringed at Skokholm in September 1960 was recovered in Spain that November. Siberian Stonechats subspecies maura or stejnegeri were noted at Strumble Head on 12 October 1986 (G.H. Rees et al.) and at Skokholm from 11 to 15 October 1990 and 20 October 1992.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

DONOVAN,J.W. 1963. Bird notes. Nature in Wales 8:205.

More about the Stonechat in Pembrokeshire

Wheatear – 1994

Oenanthe oenanthe – TINWEN Y GARN – Breeding summer visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in February and December

1984-88
Breeding confirmed42
Breeding probable19
Breeding possible24
No of tetrads occupied85 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads17.8%

Mathew (1894) and Lockley et al. (1949) regarded the Wheatear as a common breeder on the islands, along the coast and in the mountains. They still breed on the offshore islands, around the outer coast and, most frequently, on the Preseli Mountains (see map). The Skomer and Skokholm numbers were known during the survey period, so adding an average of two pairs per tetrad along the mainland coast and an average density of eight pairs per tetrad for the Preseli area, the county population can be estimated to have been about 400 pairs.

The first Wheatears have been recorded from 4 March onwards, but most appear after the middle of the month. Passage migrants are widespread in coastal areas, with some penetrating a little inland and along the river valleys. They usually appear not to take up station on their inland breeding grounds until about mid-April, though they have been noted at some localities earlier than this. Numbers are generally small, usually up to 20 at each locality, but there was an exceptional 1,500 at Skokholm on 28 April 1938 (Betts 1992). Passage usually ceases by late April, when larger, richer-coloured Wheatears appear. These are usually ascribed to the Greenland race but undoubtedly include Icelandic birds; one ringed at Skokholm in April 1946 was recovered breeding in south­-east Iceland in May 1948. These larger birds continue to pass through until the end of June.

Many Wheatears pass through Pembrokeshire in the autumn, from about mid-August to the end of October, with stragglers until 15 November.  They appear to be generally less numerous in the autumn than in spring, but are more susceptible to large localised falls, such as a group of about 300 birds at the Smalls on 19 September 1982. The larger Greenland- type Wheatears are detectable among the autumn migrants but are less obvious than when in spring plumage. Wheatears have been recorded at the lanterns of the South Bishop and the Smalls lighthouses on several occasions.

An unusual record was of a Wheatear at Templeton airfield on 7 January 1989, though it could not be found on subsequent visits.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

BETTS, M. 1992. Birds of Skokholm. Cardiff, Bioline.

More about the Wheatear in Pembrokeshire

Eider – 1994

Somateria mollissima – HWYADEN FWYTHBLU – Winter visitor and possible breeder

Mathew (1894) mentioned single birds at Stackpole (undated) and at Dale on 18 January 1891, and Lockley et al. (1949) could add no others. Eiders have appeared with increasing frequency since 1952, when four were at Dale during the second half of November. A few records refer to the Cleddau Estuary, the majority to the outer coast. Groups of up to eight settle in St Bride’s Bay in most winters, where they are most frequently seen at Newgale, and others have been seen off the south coast between Saundersfoot and Flimston, which probably come from the resident flock at Whiteford Point (West Glamorgan). The maximum gathering recorded in Pembrokeshire was of about 30 off the Green Bridge on 26 April 1984. Autumn birds seen in transit off Strumble Head may have originated in Ireland and include most of the adult males recorded.

It was suspected that Eiders attempted to breed at Caldey Island in the early 1980s, and a flightless group seen at St Govan’s Head in mid-July 1983 was probably a brood.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

More about the Eider in Pembrokeshire